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3 Ways to Have Better Conversations With Your Kids

Here’s how you can get from “talk to the hand” to having heart-to-hearts.

Parents habitually complain that their kids revert to devices instead of communicating face-to-face. Yet moms and dads can be guilty of modeling the exact behavior they want their children to avoid.

Adults often turn to their phones for professional and recreational purposes. However, children don’t necessarily understand that such behavior isn’t appreciated in all circumstances. Instead, they mimic what they see, often to their parents’ dismay.

The best way for children to learn when to put down their screens is by seeing their folks do likewise. And once the technology barrier is broken, parents and children can start having meaningful conversations — to everyone’s benefit.

Knowing what to say and how to say it

Being able to express feelings and talk about issues isn’t just a skill that’s nice to have later in life. Promoting a household in which honest, open communication is the norm can smooth the way for stronger connections between parents and children. And it’s possible, no matter what type of parenting style mothers and fathers embrace.

Some parents, for instance, are more authoritative, offering freedom within parameters that widen as the child ages. Other parents lean toward permissiveness, assuming that their kids need a long leash to learn life’s lessons on their own. Despite the differences in child-rearing philosophies, any mom or dad can learn to listen actively, nurture without condition, and open the door to dialogue about even very sensitive topics.

Will some children initially resist chitchatting with their parents? You can bet on it. Adolescents from Generation Z exhibit a high degree of skepticism, so don’t expect immediate buy-in. Yet, surprisingly, even the most reluctant teenager may come around once she realizes that confabs with mom and dad don’t have to end in fights, tears, or disciplinary action.

Are you eager to improve communications between you and the young loves of your life? Adopt these three practices to strengthen your communication and, in turn, your relationship with your kids.

1. Increase your emotional literacy.

You may have grown up in a home where emotions were pushed to the wayside. Work on developing your emotional vocabulary so you can help your child express himself when sharing stories or communicating needs. As Dr. Ron Taffel, author and child-rearing expert, notes, “Problems are better solved when one can articulate them to another person and people find solutions together.” Building your and your child’s emotional awareness elevates discussions and improves kids’ emotional intelligence. Empathetic kids turn into empowered adults who feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and beliefs in respectful ways.

To be sure, talking about strong emotions can get uncomfortable, especially with touchy topics. It’s necessary, though. For example, frequent relocations can be traumatic for kids. When parents empathize with their kids’ concerns and bring the children into the planning — including explaining the purpose of a move — the result is a more supportive family unit. Sometimes just giving a voice to negative feelings enables a more positive outcome.

2. Choose trust over temper.

It can be hard not to fly off the handle, especially when kids are disrespectful, withhold information, or make serious mistakes. Yes, this is normal behavior to a certain extent, but it can make parents wary of trusting their children. Regardless, trust is a powerful tool for forging a better child-parent relationship. Kids who believe that their parents trust them will be more apt to share their concerns or bring up sensitive matters such as drug use and peer pressure.

“The most important thing you can do is to show your kids that you trust in them,” says Zeynep Ilgaz, a mother herself and the president and CEO of Confirm BioSciences, a global supplier of drug testing technologies. She recommends that moms and dads channel their anger into expressing concern. “Spend time bonding with them so they feel comfortable approaching you whenever needed,” she advises. “Try not to be overbearing or angry; rather, be present and authentic.” Feel like you’re about to blow your top? Go back to square one: State your feelings calmly and communicate your concerns in a nonconfrontational way.

3. Make touching base a regular occurrence.

To enjoy better discussions with your child, make family chats a normal, natural occurrence. Some moms and dads make dinnertime sacred, for example. No devices are allowed, and everyone gets an opportunity to chime in on the conversation. Setting the stage for talking every day may even have an impact on younger kids’ cognitive development and future academic capabilities, according to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.

Frequent, balanced back-and-forth discussions and light-hearted debates encourage kids to formulate opinions and get accustomed to explaining or justifying their views. They also pave the way for talking about more serious issues whenever they arise, such as divorce and remarriage. As Kansas State University research showed, teens of divorced parents who communicated frequently via FaceTime and text with a noncustodial parent were able to maintain supportive relationships with them.

Even if you feel like there’s a wall between you and your child today, you can break it down simply by being more intentional about communication. Don’t be surprised if you’re obliged to set down your own phone more often in the process.

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